tried to eat the safe banana (thefourthvine) wrote,
tried to eat the safe banana
thefourthvine

My Fannish Evolution, Part One

Recently, I experienced what was apparently a fever-related critical intelligence failure and imported all my bookmarks to del.icio.us.

There were 4000 of them.

Three thousand of those were fannish.

I expect that sorting, tagging, and fixing those 3000 will take me approximately the rest of my life.

But this process, though apparently interminable, is also interesting, because I've realized that these bookmarks are my fannish history. Looking at them, I can see precisely where and how I started reading fan fiction (you don't want to know, and I don't want to tell you), how long it took me to find good fan fiction (so painfully long that I'm still not sure why I didn't give up), when fan fiction became an all-consuming hobby, displacing all my others (October, 2003). And what interests me most of all is that, in retrospect, I can see which bookmarks are epochal.

And, hey. If I'm going to wade through my fannish history, why not share? So here it is: A History of TFV as a Young Fan: A Tale Told in Links. (Part one. I'm only up to August 2004 in my bookmarks.)

The One That Gave Me Hope: Silence, by cinzia.

In the summer of 2003, I was, as had become my custom, browsing around archives of LotR fan fiction, and what I was finding was, well, basically really horrible. I would get a list of all the stories in a given site, and I would go through them methodically, and inevitably I would end up reading something involving Legolas braiding Boromir's hair and making daisy chains that involved actual flowers. (Or, god forbid, orcs. Or, typically, both.)

I was tough, then, a brave young fan, not crabbed and aged as I am today. But even so, it was, well, disheartening. I loved the concept too much to give up, and I loved my brain, my eyes, and the English language too much to keep reading. Those were hard times, is what I'm saying. Then, on a magical day in July 2003, I bitched about this to Best Beloved.

Me: My god, every story on this site is from hell. These people obviously don't know English and yet they insist on writing entire conversations in Elvish. Also, someone needs to explain to these people that quotes from Nickleback and original Elvish poetry do not belong in the same damn story. Or even in separate ones, actually.
Best Beloved: Huh. Maybe you should, um, stop?
Me, helplessly: I can't.

[There is a pause while we both consider how pathetic this is.]

BB: So what are you reading right now?
Me, staring dispiritedly at the screen: Something about Aragorn crying because Legolas - oh, wait, sorry, Leggy - doesn't love him enough. With apostrophe-laden plurals. And - oh, god - Elvish love juice.
BB, clearly impressed: Wow. This I have to see.

[BB sits down at the computer. Two minutes pass.]

BB: I don't know what you're complaining about. This isn't so bad.
Me, bitterly: Well, maybe you and Leggy can consummate your love in a wooded glade with a series of random dots pretending to be ellipses, then.
BB: No, really. Read this. It's pretty good.

"This," as it turned out, was Silence, and it was the best story I'd read in LotR fandom. (Best Beloved, I feel the need to note here, had found it with a single random click. I had been diligently clicking on LotR FF for months, and I hadn't found anything even approaching readable, but - I'm totally over it. Delighted that BB could help me find the way, even if the way was apparently random clicking by someone other than me. Absolutely. Fucking. Delighted.)

I'd learned an important truth: the good stuff was out there. Of course, I still didn't have a clue how to find it. But that was, in comparison to the good stuff not actually existing, a really minor problem.

The One That Made Me Understand That Fandom Is a Conversation: The Elements of Slash: Inside the Wacky, Weird World of "Lord of the Rings" Slash Fiction, by Morgan Richter.

I started in fandom as an entirely passive consumer of fan fiction. I thought things about it - a lot of things, including that Legolas should never, ever be called "Leggy" - but I didn't articulate those things (excepted in hand-wavy dinner conversations), and I sure never considered that other people might be thinking about them, too.

Then, in September of 2003, I found this essay while randomly googling. (And, oh, until I saw some of the other links I'd bookmarked around that time, I'd almost forgotten how sad the random google phase of a fan's life is. Thank god for discoveries like this.) It was a revelation. There was another person out there! And she was interested in slash, and yet she could spell and punctuate and totally understood that in a reasonable universe, no one would ever have to read the phrase "his milky alabaster skin."

I was amazed. And pleased. And once I knew that this fans-discussing-fandom-and-fan-fiction stuff existed, I started looking for it. In short order, I found The Fanfic Symposium, and from there I branched out all over. I found the Mary Sue Litmus Tests and spent a happy evening reading about the ecology of the strange creature known as Mary Sue. (As I was going through the del.icio.us links, I realized the original Mary Sue Litmus Test, which I joyfully bookmarked three years ago, had been written by someone I read every day here on LJ. So, hey, mtgat! I've apparently been loving your work way longer than I thought.)

The picture of fandom in my head started to change. I no longer imagined random individuals writing and other random individuals reading, all in strange solitude. I realized that fandom was a community, a community of people thinking about stuff, paying attention to it, talking about it, writing about it. My picture of the average fan changed, too, from a 14-year-old girl posting, "OMG I just saw part of Felowship and Orli is so HAWTTTT I had to write this! It's my first time! Review lots or NO MORE updates!!!!" to someone - well, interesting. Someone I might want to know.

Someone I might want to be.

The Fellowship of the Rings made me read fan fiction. But meta made me a fan.

The One That Gave Me Half of My Forty-or-So Fandoms: Out of Whack, by Bone, aka thisisbone, and Aristide, aka cimmerians*.

I spent the fall of 2003 exploring fandom and reading obsessively. (Or, okay, I've done that since the fall of 2003, but I'm specifically talking about then.) I learned that maybe random archives weren't my friend. More importantly, I learned that another not-my-friend thing was kind of integral to fandom. Namely, television.

I know a lot of people have a great relationship with television and I'm very happy for you (and by "happy" I mean "seething with sickening envy"), but mine has always been kind of a - well, let me put it this way. I just turned to Best Beloved and said, "I need an analogy for my relationship with television. I was thinking in terms of Kate and Petruchio, but that doesn't quite do it, somehow."

Best Beloved said: "Guido and those people who miss their payments to the mob. Or Henry the VIII and most of his wives." See. I just. It has never worked out between TV and me. I've tried, and so have several tireless, courageous souls, and I've gotten a lot better - I've probably managed to get all the way from Anne Boleyn to Anne of Cleves (TV, of course, is playing Henry VIII). But still. TV/TFV is never going to be a pairing of legend, unless the legend involves a lot of headaches, stupid questions, avoidance, and humiliating misunderstandings.

But I was learning that most major fandoms were TV shows. I felt - well, hampered. But in November 2003, I clicked on Out of Whack. Some careful reading later, I learned a great truth: fan fiction can be canon-optional. Later, I learned that I am actually much more likely to enjoy reading the fan fiction if I don't know the canon when I start, and TV fandoms became my happy home.

Due South, Sports Night, SG1, SGA, Smallville - I have all those fandoms, and many more, because of this story, because of the lesson it taught me. And that lesson is: stories about a guy listening to his "roommate" jerking off are the Rosetta Stones of fandom. The sex provides, um, helpful keys, and I can kind of build the rest of the canon's grammar and lexicon from there. (Actually, I would soon acquire an unholy passion for reconstructing canon from fan fiction. But that's a story for Part Two.)

Suddenly, my fannish reading wasn't limited by anything other than my interest, my time, my preferences, and my squicks. In any reasonable movie, this is the place where "Ode to Joy" would start playing.

The One That Gave Me This LJ: Confidence Men, by Dorinda.

In January 2004 I heard about yuletide, and I was pathetically excited. I had developed a great love of small fandoms, and this was clearly the small-fandom-lover's holy grail.

I went to the archive and did my usual hopeful clicking. (Note: Yuletide is pretty much the only archive on the planet where this strategy regularly works for me. Yet more proof that it is a Christmas Miracle.)

My first click took me to Confidence Men. I was stunned. It was beyond good, beyond great; it was perfect. And I felt, welling up inside, something very familiar to me and every religious weirdo on this earth: the urge to proselytize.

See, when I read something wonderful, I want to tell everyone about it, get everyone to read it. I just can't bear to think of those sad, lonely, damned souls, unaware of the joy and peace they can find in the holy embrace of really good reading material. But at that point in my life, I had no outlet for my proselytizing urge. (Free advice: when you meet a proselytizer with no pulpit, run. In. Fear. The urge is so strong that, if not given a regular outlet, it can build to the point where the proselytizer is grabbing random strangers on the street and shouting, "OMG Ted Chiang read him now or you will BURN BURN BURN!") I'd been reviewing books, and that was a perfect way for me to meet my proselytizing needs without becoming (more of) a menace to society, but then my family found my book reviews, and I couldn't write them anymore. (For reasons unknown, I can share things with the entire internet or with people related to me by blood. Not both.)

So. It's January 2004. I have just read Confidence Men and told Best Beloved about it. And I need to tell other people, but - who is left to tell? (Yes, I did tell Dorinda, but, um. At that point, I wasn't exactly ready for prime time in the area of actual fannish communication. I mean, some would say I'm still not there yet, but I definitely wasn't there then. Dorinda was incredibly kind and good-natured about the whole thing, although I've always wondered if she passed my email around to her friends with, like, "Warning: Total Whackjob" in the subject line. I would've deserved it.) The urge to share the fabulousness - convert people to it, even - built and built and built, and by March 2004, when I set up this LJ at the encouragement of some folks from the late lamented Fametracker Forums - well. I pretended I wasn't going to post. But I wasn't even fooling myself, not really.

The One That Gave Me a Look at How the Other Half Lives: Untitled, by, well, me.

Obviously, I wouldn't recommend my own story - and if I did, for the record, it would not be this one - but this isn't a recs set. It's a history of my fannish evolution. And this was a big change for me; it gave me a sort of fannish superbranchial organ, and suddenly I could breathe on land for short periods. (The story also ushered in the Era of Having a Secret LJ, about which I will only say that it proved that I am much too lazy to have secrets. I came out as a fan fiction writer because I just could not take all the work, the intense and demanding labor, of logging out and logging back in every time I wanted to reply to a comment.)

Until the summer of 2004, I didn't think I was a fan fiction writer. Sure, I'd written my share of humiliating-to-recall pre-fandom fan fiction; like, in second grade, when we were assigned to write a paragraph about a book we'd read, I wrote about 35 pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder's diary. And turned it in the next day. Let's just say I probably deserved the weird evaluations that that teacher gave me for the rest of the year. (All right. In all honesty, I got them before, too; I was the bad kind of special. But after I handed in that masterpiece, I have to assume she thought I was the really bad kind of special.)

But before Sports Night, I had no desire or ability to write fan fiction.

And then I actually watched some canon, and I realized I could hear the characters in my head. (Still can. Danny and Casey: always in my heart and always in my mind.) Yeah, yeah - bad kind of special, all right, I know. But I wrote it down and posted the sucker.

Here's the thing. This didn't just make me realize I could do something I was sure I couldn't. It also changed the way I interacted with fandom and canons. Writing fan fiction, taking an active, interactive approach to the canon, made me - well. I can't really quantify the change, except to say that I no longer saw canons as static, or unchangeable, or even privileged. (I've always seen books that way, sure, but TV - well, I'd just kind of figured it knew best.)

In other words, after I wrote this, I started interacting with canons the same way I always had with fan fiction: evaluating, analyzing, criticizing, changing. (I've written more fan fiction for fan fiction than for all my canons put together, and I started writing that long before I started this story. I've continued stories, I've remixed them, I've written sequels and missing scenes and fixes. I don't share this stuff, obviously - well, except for when I'm playing with z_rayne's work, since she loves to see what other people do with her toys even when what they do is pretty dorky and eternally unfinished.)

And there endeth part one. In part two, assuming I survive the links, we'll see Godzilla on the rampage in downtown Tokyo. Well, no - what we'll see, mostly, is TFV dancing on the slippery, slippery slope. But I will try to throw in some roaring and stomping, because, as we all know, added giant mutant lizards = added giant mutant fun!

-Footnote-

* Thanks, sockkpuppett!
Tags: [meta], lord of the rings, oceanverse, sentinel, sports night
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